The promise of having it all together, enjoying our life, being productive, resourceful and successful is something close to utopia. Like many people right now, you might struggle to motivate yourself, to keep up routines, that are good for you, you sometimes procrastinate and feel stressed but struggle to disconnect because you usually stay reachable to everyone in case of emergency. That is okay. Nobody is perfect.
When you start to feel trapped in your life or stressed on a regular basis it might start to affect your mental and physical well-being negatively.
For everyone who is feeling helpless in the face of static responsibilities or who has given up systematically improving their routines, this might be hard to read because in this article we are following the credo “Accept the change by mastering adjusting to it!” Following this credo you will improve your resilience by increasing your self-efficacy. This means that we never give up on improving ourselves to stay happy, healthy and productive. We know that this means actual work but it also means that we can do something to increase our control over the situation. There are no easy solutions such as pills or pillow mists. But neither are extreme measures like changing ourselves completely a good solution. We have compiled some helpful strategies that can make life easier for you and help you on the quest to reach utopia.
First things first: What does self-efficacy mean?
Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.”
This deep understanding that you are in control of your life by having a toolbox of habits, strategies, tricks, “life hacks” or even actual physical devices, which individually help you to structure your life, reduces the fear towards future changes. Your life will appear easier, manageable and you will have the capacity to strive towards what you really need. By using these tools on a regular basis you will feel more efficient and resilient even during stressful times. You are aware of your resources and how to use them. You will feel and be better prepared for the hardships of life.
It is a well-known problem that our focus is often interrupted by messages, e-mails or meetings. This makes it difficult to meet tight schedules or get difficult tasks done by keeping us from getting into a workflow.
There are countless approaches, many of which you might have tried already. First you might have tried to add time to get tasks done. When this does not work, we sometimes involve the surrounding by complaining about interruptions, asking for help or trying to delegate the work away. This will work every now and then and we will continue to do it until we find something more effective. However, often we are part of a team and a steady flow of information and feedback is important. So we end up being distracted, overbooked or stressed nevertheless.
This method consists of two simple steps and all you need is a timer (e.g. a kitchen timer). Book yourself a time in the calendar and mark this time as “busy” to make sure that this time will not collide with another meeting. Make sure to do so on a regular basis. Once you have booked the time, you can start.
This way you will be productive and work more efficiently. No one can work 8 hours in the workflow mode without any breaks and you do not have to. You need to present, exchange and engage with your colleagues and team members. As I said at the beginning, you do not need to change who you are in order to be happy and successful, you just need to find the right tools and make time to use them.
This problem is as old as mankind. We get a task and we estimate the amount of time we might need to finish it. If it feels like we can solve it right away, we do it. If we feel that it needs one to two hours of uninterrupted work, we might find the time to do it. When we feel the time we need to invest is unpredictable or very intense, the likelihood increases that we put it off. We all tend to do it and we all suffer from the consequences. It always causes a chain reaction of accumulating tasks, starting to forget things and feeling stressed about it. This is when we start forcing ourselves to work harder or longer, which affects our sleep and our productivity. In the end we often produce work we are not satisfied with which results in disappointment and more stress.
I am sure, there are many ways you have tried to deal with it already. For example, you might have tried setting a new year’s resolution of “ start with tasks immediately” or “earlier”. As if any of us has ever made the conscious choice to procrastinate. It is rather a desperate expression of not having the energy or capacity to solve it right away. Have you ever tried a reward system? Have you ever asked for help? There is another option, you might have heard about: Mini Habits.
Building habits and routines is one of the great topics of the Corona time. It is a strategy that can help you to adjust to great changes. An understanding of how you can break big goals down, define subgoals and progress by taking small steps regularly, will make you feel more active, responsible for and self-reliant. This helps us to become more independent by increasing our self-efficacy.
This should be always formulated in a specific, positive manner such as “I will work on this project for 15 Minutes every day.” instead of too general “I need to find the time to start.” or too ambitious, such as “I need 5 hours to finish it and I need them now.”
For example 15 Minutes into your day. This can be in the morning or the afternoon. It could be during a focus time session you have planned.
Work is work and breaks are breaks. Have you ever heard of “brork”? Neither have I and that is for a good reason. Nothing good comes from trying to combine breaks and work.
A Reward for showing up and implementing this new routine will bring the project or task further bit by bit. Feeling proud or rewarding oneself is a way of compensating for the time, effort and energy to motivate ourselves. Yes, it is often forgotten because who really needs praise? Well, the truth is everyone. We need to acknowledge that our time and effort is worth something. If we are not praised by others, then we can still praise ourselves. Only we know how much we have invested and how much acknowledgement we deserve.
Make sure you will not give up on yourself until you finish the project. You can reduce the time when you have a lot to do down to 5 minutes or less, as long as you do not give up on your commitment to yourself.
After only two weeks you might already feel used to the method. You will see that the project or task has developed. You might even have come across the biggest issues already. There is still time to adjust as needed, clarify upcoming questions or ask for help. This way you will progress over time and feel happier about yourself.
There is a good chance you are reading this blog to get a quick fix to your specific stress problem, if not in this post, maybe in one of our other posts. Stress is a very individual topic. Very different problems cause different levels of stress. Also the symptoms of stress differ in variety and severity.
There is stress with an obvious negative impact, which we usually try to avoid. Then there is stress, where the impact is rather positive for instance when you feel the excitement on a roller coaster or when falling in love.
Since there are types of stress we greatly enjoy and since stress is a normal part of life, we have to learn to regulate it. Once you feel stressed it is hard to implement new strategies. So be aware that stress is stress. It builds up and the first symptoms arise, which we usually manage without giving it much thought. Then it starts to accumulate and we start to suffer from overstimulation, extreme emotions or pain to absolute exhaustion. This is when most people know that they need help.
Once you figure out that your problems are fueled by stress, you can start doing something about it. Maybe you already have strategies which work for you. We call these “individual strategies for stress regulation”. For me it is for example taking pictures and being out in nature. At the beginning of this year Margaretha invited me to restart my yoga practise together with a group of others. She organised a WhatsApp group and everyone in the group committed to participate for one month. This has added this strategy back to my immediately available individual strategies, which helps me to regulate my personal stress level.
Take a moment and think about what strategies you have and whether they work for you personally and are immediately effective for you.
There are many ways of regulating your stress level. Different Apps and YouTube videos are freely available. Online classes and instructions you can find on different platforms and websites like this one.
There are some techniques which have been rigorously studied already such as progressive muscle relaxation or autogenic training. There are techniques, which have been around for thousands of years such as awareness training and yoga. Many have tried or at least heard of them.
The highly effective techniques are usually connected to a training process or at least a good instructor. There are differences in what works for whom, which is why we want to encourage you to try different tools for yourself. Be proactive and choose different strategies for different stressful events. Let’s take for example the 5 minutes break, I have offered above. Here is an example for a one-minute exercise which fits easily in this break.
While you do this exercise you can either close your eyes or look outside into the distance. Try to focus your eyes on something calm to be able to connect to yourself. This exercise can be done at the office or at home. You can of course do the breathing separately from the affirmation. Use this exercise to start or finish breaks, whenever you have a chance.
This exercise does actively regulate your stress level and helps your mind to focus on something positive. You will feel successful and motivated for whatever comes after.
As you can see there are many methods you can use to tackle difficult situations. These are just three widely known examples which, when used regularly, will make a difference. While we are stressed we often lose the capacity to use our resources because we simply forget about them. This tunnel vision inhibits us to ask for help because the feeling of helplessness might be overwhelming.
If we have learned in the past that we have no control on what is happening to us, we might even invest less energy in looking for a solution. However, there is always a solution. Experiencing that there are tools with which we can actively influence our stress reaction can change our perspective and will increase our self-efficacy.
Changing into a proactive mindset by trying out different tools to improve our life, happiness and performance, will leave us stronger and better prepared for the struggles of life. We want you to be aware of your resources by for example making a list, will give you the feeling of being in control. This trust you gain in yourself, your resources and your own abilities to succeed will make you more resilient.
Photo by Elizabeth Gottwald on Unsplash